A comprehensive guide to biking the city of Madison, Alabama
Madison is trying to improve their bicycle infrastructure. They’re trying, but struggling. As with any civic project, money is the driving factor. As cyclist are aware, bike infrastructure often takes a back seat to other projects. I’m often confused by the city’s efforts. On the one hand, they’ve put in some great greenways and the County Line Rd. paths. On the other, they continue to install traffic lights without bike sensors or pedestrian crossings.
Traveling North-South through Madison
County Line Road
With the recent (2017) revamp of County Line Rd., Madison added its first full-fledged bike route. The idea was good. The execution could have been better. Both sides of County Line Rd. now support a multi-use (cycle/pedestrian) path. Unlike the motor lanes, the bike path has posted stop signs at every, single side street. If it was possible to use the motor lanes, a cyclist would have traffic lights less than half as often as the bike path’s stop signs. However, in Alabama, cyclist may NOT use the motor lanes if an adjacent bike path/lane is available (Code of AL Section 32-5A-263c). This basically means that the County Line paths were designed for failure, at least where commuter traffic is concerned. They do provide a slow-paced corridor to the neighborhoods and shopping along County Line Rd.
Don’t. Just don’t. Wall-Triana, at least north of Mill Rd. is a cycling nightmare, see also “death trap.” It is Madison’s most heavily used road. There are no shoulders, no turning lanes to speak of, and no passing opportunities for cars. Avoid Wall-Triana north of Mill Rd. at all costs. South of Mill Rd. Wall-Triana, or as it is known in Madison, Sullivan St., supports a third, left-turn lane giving motor traffic room to pass. Watch for the pinch point created by the bollards at the railroad crossing. South of Royal Dr., Sullivan widens to 5 lanes, but traffic is very heavy in this area approaching the 565 interstate. Proceed south with extreme caution. Though there are 5 lanes south of the interstate, the speed limit increases to 50 mph (80 kph).
Side note: Royal Dr. has Madison’s only painted bike lanes. They go absolutely no where and connect to absolutely nothing. But they do run the entire length of Royal Dr.
You might assume that the second most heavily used road in the city would be a bicycle no-go, but Hughes Rd. is quite forgiving to bicycle traffic. It is 4 lanes south of Browns-Ferry Rd. and 3 lanes north of that intersection. The 3rd lane is a center, left-turn lane. It provides ample passing room for motor traffic to pass cyclists. You should remain aware of the forward road situation. If there is a car waiting in the center, left-turn lane, it can cause a pinch-point situation. With enough forward awareness, a cyclist has time to take center lane and discourage squeeze passes.
The 4 lane section from Browns-Ferry to Mill allows cyclist to use the full, right-hand lane. This section of road gives access to City Hall and Madison Cycles, my recommended go-to for repairs and equipment.
It’s recommended you avoid Hughes Rd. south of Portal Ln./Mill Rd. unless you’re just trying to get to Skate Park Dr. which is also accessible from Mill Rd. Once south of Skate Park, you will encounter a formidable hill in the form of the train track overpass. The speed limit increases to 45 mph (72 kph). It is unfortunate that this is one of only two routes to the post office and shopping along Madison Blvd. The post office is best accessed via Lanier Dr./Will Halsey Way from Old Town Madison.
Note: The path running the length of Hughes Road’s west side is NOT a multi-use path. According to the Madison City engineer’s office, it is a pedestrian-only sidewalk. The Alabama Traffic Code, Section 32-5A-52, forbids cycling on a sidewalk.
Nance to Hughes via Bradford Farms
The hill on Grand Vista Dr. is fairly steep. However, there is an alternative when schools are not in session. On the back (west) side of Rainbow Elementary is a sidewalk that connects to Green Springs Ln. in the Bradford Farms neighborhood. Do NOT attempt this shortcut when school is in session.
Old Town Madison Access
From Hughes and Plaza, take Plaza to Landers to Sturdivant to Church to Main. I recommend Sturdivant Street instead of Church especially if you’re northbound because the light at Church and Mill will not change for bikes and there’s less of a hill. Landers Rd. is not well maintained so watch for potholes and over-patched asphalt. Once downtown, it’s an easy connection through the stadium parking lot using an old construction path off Shorter St at the end of Garner St. This will connect with Celtic Dr and Madison Blvd. Alternatively, you can use Lanier Rd. to get to the post office. If Redstone Arsenal is your destination, Madison Blvd connects with Intergraph Way just one block east of Celtic. See “Arsenal Access” below for further tips.
Traveling East-West through Madison
North of Hwy 72
The shopping centers and cinema between Wall-Triana and Nance Rd., north of Hwy 72, are all interconnected. Using parking lots and the connecting streets makes shopping access by bicycle quite easy. Crossing 72 can be accomplished on Wall-Triana or Hughes Rd. since there is almost always car traffic to change the lights. The traffic light on Nance Rd., south of 72, will not change for a northbound bicycle and there is little northbound car traffic to trigger the lights. The southbound bike sensor are functional on Nance Rd.
Gooch Ln. is about the safest east-west corridor on the north side of Madison. The speed limit is 35 mph (56 kph). The lower speed limit and residential nature of the road make it one of the few choices for an east-west connection. Once Gooch ends at Balch Rd., you can access the medical district with a short ride north on five lanes or with a short ride south, use residential streets (Kentucky, Thoroughbred, Small Creek, and Joe Phillips) to connect to County Line Rd. There is also a sidewalk at the end of Eastfield Dr. that connects to the Shoppes of Madison (Target shopping center) on the shopping center’s west end.
Brown’s Ferry/Madison Pike
From Wall-Triana to Bridgestreet/Research Park West, Old Madison Pike is your only choice. There is a center left-turn lane that provides passing opportunities for cars for the entire length of the route. The Indian Creek Greenway also connects to the road just east of Slaughter Rd. You will encounter one decent hill between Dublin Park and Shelton Rd.
This is the southern most of the east-west connections. From Mill Park Ln. west to the Bradford Creek Greenway, there is a multi-use path. East of Mill Park Ln., Mill Rd. is two lanes and 45 mph (72 kph) until you reach Wall-Triana (Sullivan St.) where the speed limit drops. Portal Ln. is a residential, 25 mph (40 kph) zone and there is parallel parking on either side. This provides space if you wish to pull over and allow passing, but it is one of the few places in Madison where cyclist must watch the door zone. Portal connects to Shelton Rd. on the east end. This provides access to the shopping center at the corner of Shelton and Madison Blvd.
With one exception, I’ve yet to find a bike sensor in the city of Madison. Traffic lights will not change for cyclist unless they are on a timer. This is a major oversight in the city’s planning and infrastructure. I have quizzed the streets department on the matter and their response is simply, “Treat the red light as a stop sign.” I note that this advice won’t hold water with the police department simply because the streets department can’t be bothered to put in a manual button to activate the lights.
The one working bike sensor I know of is at Madison Blvd and Intergraph Way. There are bike sensor on Intergraph Way and exiting the Walmart parking lot at that same intersection.
Redstone Arsenal is best accessed from Madison via Gate 7 on Martin Rd. at the Zierdt Rd. intersection. Gate 7 is open for inbound traffic from 05:30 to 14:00 and outbound traffic from 05:30 to 19:00. There is a gravel path shortcut from Dunlop Blvd. to The Reserve neighborhood. This eventually connects to Nature’s Way and on to Zierdt Rd. The gravel path connects to a sidewalk, so dismounting is recommended and required. Thin-tire bikes are discouraged from riding the gravel due to potential flats and the adjacent pond. Watch for families and children going to and from the playground adjacent to the path. Also, reduce any noise/music levels out of respect for the houses near the secret sidewalk. Note: The hill out of The Reserve on Nature’s Way (east end) can be a daunting, but short climb.
Practical Cycling Map of Madison AL
Alabama Traffic Code Excerpts
Driving upon sidewalk.
No person shall drive any vehicle upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway.
Riding on roadways and bicycle paths; right side signalling.
(a) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.
(b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
(c) Wherever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.
(d) A person riding a bicycle may give a hand signal for a right turn by extending his or her right arm and hand horizontally on the right side of the bicycle. A child under the age of sixteen shall not be required to comply with the right side signalling.